Thursday, 21 September 2017

That strip of golden goodness, that salty and crisp fried chip of a potato that makes burgers better, steaks superb and, generally, a meal magnificent. That’s what many of us think and feel about the French fry, frites or Belgian frieten, writes Andre Erasmus. But is it so, particularly the ’golden goodness’ part?

Not according to the European Union and many food scientists. Acrylamide, says the EU, is ‘a carcinogenic substance that forms from naturally present free asparagine (amino acid) and sugars during high temperature processing, such as frying, particularly in potato-based products’.

And this, obviously, would be bad news for the global potato industry, affecting both growers and processors.

This follows some research in 2002 which showed a disposition towards cancer after consuming fried potato products.

But Emma Shields, at charity Cancer Research UK, says: “Although evidence from animal studies has shown that acrylamide in food could be linked to cancer, this link isn’t clear and consistent in humans.”

However, prevention is better than cure, say many, and the fried slices of potato seemed endangered.

However, the traditional or true Belgian offering (which dates back to the 19th century) is done by double frying potato chips in beef or horse fat to achieve the ideal combination of a succulent center and crispy exterior. Shared with a good beer, this is about as traditional as it gets in Belgium.

So, Ben Weyts, the country’s tourism minister, said in a letter to the EU that ‘our fries owe their flavor to the craftsmanship of our chippies, who fry chips raw and then fry them a second time. I understand that outside our country they have different cultures. But we have our own cultural tradition’. It would be a shame for the EU to prohibit this, he added.

An EU commission spokesman said, in response, that their proposal was merely to recommend the blanching of potatoes rather than enforce a ban.  “The commission has no intention whatsoever to ban Belgian frites or any other frites for that matter,” he stressed.

And, in July this year, members of the European Commission voted in favor of a new (less strict) regulation that requires food business operators to apply ‘mandatory measures to reduce the presence of acrylamide’, proportionate to the size and nature of their establishment.

That, in turn, is good news for growers and processors, especially those involved in the bintje variety which is the most popular for Belgium’s famous offering.

That means my next Belgian visit can include crisp frieten and some mussels as a centuries old tradition is allowed to continue. Oh, and a visit to the Frietmusuem in Bruges is well worth the time...

Related articles: 

EC Project for Reducing Acrylamide in Food Approved 

Potato Industry Associations React to Regulation on Acrylamide Levels 

High Levels of Acrylamide for Potato Fries in Brussels 

European Commission Won’t Ban Belgian Frites

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